An Israeli archaeologist says he has discovered the tomb of King Herod, one of the legendary rulers of the ancient world. VOA's Jim Teeple reports the discovery follows nearly a half-century of excavation work at one of Herod's palaces, located about 15 kilometers south of Jerusalem.
For 35 years Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer has been searching the ruins of the Herodium just south of Jerusalem - looking for signs that the builder of the ancient palace complex, King Herod the Great, was buried there.
After focusing for years on the middle and lower parts of the Herodium, a flattened hilltop visible from Jerusalem, Netzer and his team recently moved their excavations to a higher level of the structure where, three weeks ago, they say they found pieces of King Herod's sarcophagus. Netzer, who teaches at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, says it is a sarcophagus fit for a king.
"This is, I can say, a monumental sarcophagus," he noted. "There is only one or two of its kind. It was not every rich Jew or citizen of his time that could afford this himself. It is really a royal one."
Netzer says there were no bones in the sarcophagus and it had obviously been deliberately destroyed at some point - probably just before 70 AD when Jewish rebels against the Roman Empire took control of Herodium and destroyed much of the complex.
Herod, ruled much of what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories for 37 years, dying in 4 BC after a long illness. His grandfather and father were both converts to Judaism and he was named King of the Jews by the Roman Senate. Throughout his reign he faced periodic revolts from Jews who opposed his collaboration with Rome.
Ehud Netzer says there is no question that Herod was buried at Herodium. The Roman historian Josephus Flavius wrote a detailed description of Herod's funeral at the site in 4 BC. Netzer also says Herod built his palace at Herodium for one reason - it was where he wanted to be buried.
"The site was built because Herod made an oath apparently and decided to be buried there and we know exactly why," he said.
At one point in his life Herod fled a Parthian siege of Jerusalem and near Herodium, his mother's chariot overturned. After the momentarily panicked Herod realized his mother was unharmed, he was able to defeat a band of Parthians who had pursued his family from Jerusalem. Shortly after that incident, Herod began construction of the Herodium, which became one of the great palace complexes of the ancient world.
Herod's contribution to history are his monumental construction projects, which include the Second Temple wall in Jerusalem, the Masada palace complex near the Dead Sea, and the Roman city of Caesarea, just north of what is now Tel Aviv, as well as several other smaller, but still magnificent palaces in Jericho. Now, 2,000 years after his death, archaeologists say they have finally located the site that Herod himself chose as his final resting place.